Learning to stay…

“The great gift of a spiritual path is coming to trust that you can find a way to true refuge. You realize that you can start right where you are, in the midst of your life, and find peace in any circumstance. Even at those moments when the ground shakes terribly beneath you—when there’s a loss that will alter your life forever—you can still trust that you will find your way home. This is possible because you’ve touched the timeless love and awareness that are intrinsic to who you are.”
― Tara Brach, True Refuge: Finding Peace and Freedom in Your Own Awakened  

This is the practice of mindfulness, we learn to trust that we can find a different way of relating to life, one where we learn to meet our moment to moment experience, with kindness, compassion, joy and wisdom. This is what we explored this past weekend, during our first 5 day Mindfulness Retreat of the year. The theme of the retreat was the four limitless qualities of the heart and how they help us stay present for our moment to moment experience meeting what arises in a wise and compassionate way. As Tara Brach states, “Even at those moments when the ground shakes terribly beneath you—when there’s a loss that will alter your life forever—you can still trust that you will find your way home. This is possible because you’ve touched the timeless love and awareness that are intrinsic to who you are.”

During retreat, there were challenging times for all of us, the benefit of being in the container of the retreat space is that we explored how to sit through the challenges, learning to hold them with patience, kindness and compassion. And the gift was doing this in the presence of a warm, supportive environment. As Ram Dass says, ” we are all walking just walking each other home.”

Moving out of the trance of separation…

Retreats offer us the opportunity to break out of what Tara Brach calls the trance of separation. We open to the reality that we are all interconnected, we’re wired for connection and need each other; not just to survive but to thrive. Throughout the retreat, we (the facilitators and support team) kept inviting participants to slow down, be present, become aware of the mind; notice what it’s like to be present, inhabiting the body, mind and heart, Notice what it’s like when mind wanders off into thinking, planning, judging, worrying or some other state of mind. When the mind drifts off, the invitation was to come back over and over again. And this advice wasn’t just  for the participants, it was a kind reminder to all of us!

The first few days, were about slowing down the frenetic pace at which we move through life. An important part of this process, was the recognition that shifting from auto pilot to embodied awareness takes time, patience and a lot of kindness. So, the main instruction, was to meet whatever arose in the body, mind or heart with curiosity, kindness and compassion. This was a pivotal shift,; it was/is a movement away from reacting towards responding to life.

Meditation tames the reactive mind….

Retreat is a safe container in which to train the mind. As facilitators, there is much love and planning that goes into creating a

Photo by Fabian Møller on Unsplash

Photo by Fabian Møller on Unsplash – Retreat is an opportunity to connect with our aliveness…

safe and stable environment, in which to sit with the reactive mind and heart. It is also a commitment, where we set aside all distractions and dedicate time to being with this distracted, reactive and complex mind/heart. We connect with the aliveness that is right here; contained within this body, mind and heart. This is a courageous and fearless act of love and one that takes a healthy dose of patience; coming back to the breath over and over again.

As Pema Chodron states, “The pith instruction is, Stay. . . stay. . . just stay. Learning to stay with ourselves in meditation is like training a dog. If we train a dog by beating it, we’ll end up with an obedient but very inflexible and rather terrified dog. The dog may obey when we say “Stay!” “Come!” “Roll over!” and “Sit up!” but he will also be neurotic and confused.”

When things become challenging, uncomfortable or painful, our tendency is to resist. This resistance is what creates suffering. The judgment, the self blame or blaming others and a whole host of other ways we react, are habitual patterned ways of trying to protect ourselves. The pattern is not who we are; it’s a way of trying to avoid pain, and that same avoidance often creates intense stress and strife. On retreat, we get to step out of this pattern and to see how the mind creates stories of that take us away from the present moment; we get to see the habitual patterned ways we have of disconnecting from our aliveness; from presence, kindness and compassion.

Attend and befriend what’s here…

Meditation is a training in learning how to stay present; whether things are pleasant, unpleasant or neutral. As Tara Brach, says, “we learn to attend and befriend the fear that keeps us in perpetual reactivity; running away from what’s unpleasant, seeking what is pleasant and tuning out when nothing is happening.”  This move towards the suffering is the first step towards freedom of mind and heart. And again,  it requires that we meet what arises with kindness and compassion.

Training with Kindness…

“Sitting meditation cultivates loving-kindness and compassion…. We move closer to our thoughts and emotions and get in touch with our bodies. It is a method of cultivating unconditional friendliness toward ourselves and for parting the curtain of indifference that distances us from the suffering of others. It is our vehicle for learning to be a truly loving person.” Pema Chodron

At the beginning of retreat, we addressed this need to cultivate compassion, kindness and patience as we sat with our moment to moment experience. We spoke about and explored the need to stay with our direct experience, even when everything in our body and mind was saying the opposite. And how the most important companion we needed on this journey was/is kindness. As Pema says,  “…training with kindness results in someone who is flexible and confident, who doesn’t become upset when situations are unpredictable and insecure.  Whenever we wander off, we gently encourage ourselves to “stay” and settle down. Are we experiencing restlessness? Stay! Discursive mind? Stay! Are fear and loathing out of control? Stay! Aching knees and throbbing back? Stay! What’s for lunch? Stay! What am I doing here? Stay! I can’t stand this another minute! Stay! That is how to cultivate steadfastness.”

Love and Kindness

Seeing life as it is….

This ability to cultivate steadfastness, is what allows us to stay connected to life; to connect in a way that is both wise and compassionate. When we do this, we get to experience life, in all it’s joys and sorrows. We remember that we are interconnected; we aren’t apart from nature, we are part of nature.

With much appreciation to all who made this retreat a heartfelt experience; the attendees, teachers and support staff. Thank you for making this a safe, compassionate and joyful space!

Our next retreat takes place at the Casa San Carlos Retreat Center in Delray Beach, Fl. and is a 5 day Mindfulness retreat. This is a space limited event, so register soon to reserve your spot. Register at Eventbrite-August 23rd-27th Mindfulness Retreat or enroll in our 3 month installment plan here.

Until next time…

May you be well

 

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The Gift of Retreat – Entering into Noble Silence

‘For someone deeply trapped in a prison of thought, how good it can feel to meet a mind that hears, a heart that reassures.’ Ram Dass and Paul Gorman

The gift of retreat…

Going away on a spiritual retreat is an act of courage and kindness.  When we enter Noble Silence, we take a vow to keep silent for a certain period of time. this commitment is an important part of retreat practice as it is in the stillness and silence that we get to connect with the vibrant aliveness that is always present. We connect with our senses; noticing sights, sounds, smells, touch, tastes and thoughts. This is completely different than the way we usually move through life. When we come into retreat we are making a commitment to be present for life in all it’s joys, sorrows and everything in between. In doing this, we get to reconnect with the wisdom and compassion that is available to us at all times.

The Benefits of Retreat…

At our recent 3 day retreat (October 5th-7th), participants were encouraged to support each other’s

practice, by taking a vow of silence. Initially, there were some

Love and Kindness

Seeing life as it is….

hesitation, nervousness at the though of prolonged silence, especially when the attendees were informed that they should set aside all mobile devices and refrain from contacting friends and family (excluding emergencies).  This is quite a commitment in today’s world of easy access to news, social media family, etc. However, it’s also a gift. The gift of being present to life as it’s happening; of connecting with the aliveness, wisdom and love in an up close and personal way. We make a commitment, to bring a kind and clear attention to our lived experience moment to moment, without judging it. This gives us freedom to just be! And connecting with life in this way allows us to take a much needed rest from the busyness of life.

Gil Fronsdal (lead teacher at the Insight Meditation Center in Redwood City, CA), talks about the benefits of a silent retreat. He says, “Because social conversation keeps the mind active, periods of not talking help the mind rest.  Silence settles the many emotions that are activated by talking, listening, and even in the anticipation of talking.  As our mental and emotional lives calm down, our bodies relax. ”

Quieting the Monkey Mind…

At the start of retreat we read a poem by Kaveri Patel (below) that speaks eloquently about the chattering mind.

THANKING A MONKEY

Monkey Mind

Meditation helps tame the mind….

There’s a monkey in my mind
swinging on a trapeze
reaching back to the past
or leaning into the future,
never standing still.Sometimes I want to kill
that monkey, shoot it square
between the eyes so I won’t
have to think anymore
or feel pain of worry. But today I thanked her and she jumped right
into my lap.
Trapeze still swinging
as we sat still.

Retreat: an opportunity to connect with life as it is…

“Meditation is a way to calm the monkey mind and offers relief from the constant mental chatter. It is actually not a way to make the mind “go” quiet – rather it’s a way to access the quiet that is already there, buried under the 50,000 or so thoughts that the average person has every day.” From the Project Flow Blog.

Be still…be the lotus…

We can and do spend so much of our time lost in the virtual world of thoughts. And while thoughts

are not the enemy, when we react to them as if they’re facts, this can create much stress and confusion in our lives. Coming into retreat, gives us an opportunity to notice, often for the first time, how we are relating to our thoughts and how our thoughts affect us and those around us. For example, when our thoughts are filled with worry, the body reacts by preparing for a threat; tension arises, the heartbeat races, the muscles contract, your digestive system slows down. And that’s all just based on a thought! As the Buddha stated “whatever a person frequently thinks and ponders upon, that will become the inclination of his/her mind. In retreat you get to see it, sense it, and learn to tend and befriend the chattering mind. We stop the war against ourselves and life and move towards wisdom, kindness and loving connection.

The Gift of Practice…

Tips for home meditation practiceMindfulness practice allows us to pause and connect with the life as it’s happening. The practice helps us recognize when thoughts are happening; and as space between thought and reaction develops, we notice how the body, mind and heart are affected by the thoughts. This pause allows for wisdom to arise; we begin to learn how to shift from reacting to responding and the reality is, that life is constantly changing. When we resist change we resist life; we get stuck in trying to control what’s happening around us.  This stops us from living and appreciating/responding to life in a way that is wise, healthy and compassionate. Practicing mindfulness, helps shines a light on this, in a way that goes beyond words, concepts and beliefs. It is the practice of sitting with the resistance, with the inner struggle, with anger, with doubt, with joy, happiness etc. It is a noble act to stop running and to be present for the experience of being alive. When we connect with life in this way we sense and experience the preciousness of each moment. It is like holding a precious bird in hand, knowing that  at some point it will fly away and grateful for the gift of it’s presence.

This poem by Martha Postlewaite, called The Clearing speaks about this. Listen with your senses and let the words land in the heart…

Do not try to save
the whole world
or do anything grandiose.
Instead, create
a clearing
in the dense forest
of your life
and wait there
patiently,
until the song
that is your life
falls into your own cupped hands
and you recognize and greet it.
Only then will you know
how to give yourself
to this world
so worth of rescue.

Please consider registering for our next 5 day retreat which will take place, April 19th-23rd at Casa San Carlos Retreat Center in Delray Beach, To register and pay in full please go to Eventbrite-April 19th-23rd or to sign up for the installment plan please click here.

If you have any questions please contact us here.

May you be well…

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Free the Mind, Awaken the Heart…

Waking up to life

Waking up out of our stories is one of the gifts of Mindfulness…

“It’s not life that causes suffering, it’s our story about life—our interpretation—that causes so much distress.” Pema Chodron

The practice of Mindfulness helps us wake up out of our stories about life. As Pema Chodron, an American Buddhist Nun, tells us, it’s not life/what is happening in life that creates suffering, it’s our interpretation about it. This is great news! It means that we can help ourselves by being willing to be embodied, vulnerable, present and open hearted. We learn to shift from reacting to curiosity, kindness and cultivate the ability to respond to life with compassion. This is something that is lacking when pain is present. Whether it is physical, emotional or mental pain, our tendency is to react with aversion, avoidance or rumination.

There is a saying,  “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade!” Easy to say and not always easy to do. And why is that? Because our tendency is to resist; we can get stuck in complaining, procrastinating or ruminating. All these ways of meeting pain, intensify it and transform it into suffering. But what if there were a way to shift towards a more healing and kind response? This is the potential that is offered by the practice of  mindfulness.

The Buddha taught the four Noble Truths and implicit in this teaching is the potential and  path to free ourselves from the many ways we create suffering.  As Thich Nhat Hanh, writes in The Heart of The Buddha’s teaching, “Letting go gives us freedom, and freedom is the only condition for happiness. If, in our heart, we still cling to anything – anger, anxiety, or possessions – we cannot be free.”

See Life as it Really is…

Photo by Fabian Møller on Unsplash

Photo by Fabian Møller on Unsplash

We begin by seeing, experiencing life as it is, rather than how we want/don’t want it to be. Much of the time we live in our rational minds, we use logic to navigate life or we live consumed and controlled by our emotions. To live from either of these places is to be out of balance with life. So it really is important to connect with what heals us. Here we aren’t talking about material things. Yes, we need them, but it’s not something that moves our heart and nourishes us. It is our connection to each other that helps us feel alive, our connection to the breath that brings us immediately into the present moment. And this is where practice comes in….

As we practice, we begin to see, sense and feel what’s happening in real time.  We stop getting caught up in our desires and aversions and shift towards being present with life and experiencing it. And what are we staying connected to? Wisdom, kindness, understanding, generosity, compassion and joy, to name a few. We connect with our capacity to accept life as it is and with that acceptance comes the ability to respond to what’s happening in a way that is helpful and wise.

It’s not the Trigger that creates suffering…

The Triggers are the tip of the iceberg. 10% is about the trigger and the remaining 90% includes our experiences, trauma’s, hurts, needs, defenses, expectations, etc. It’s complicated and our mind works so quickly, that it’s difficult to parse out all the different causes and conditions that are arising in the moment. Pema Chodron, describes these tendencies as seeds that live in our unconscious. She says, “In the Buddhist texts, our tendencies with their habitual story lines are described as seeds in the unconscious. When the right causes and conditions come together, these preexisting propensities pop up like flowers in the springtime. It’s helpful to contemplate that it’s these propensities and not what triggers themselves that are the real cause of our suffering.”

How Mindfulness helps…

The practice of mindfulness, specifically meditation is one that helps us gather the scattered attention of

Stay Patient…trust the journey

the mind. As we develop this capacity to gather the attention we begin to see beyond the conceptual mind, into experience in real time. For example, if I am sitting on the cushion and I start to have anxious thoughts, instead of following or feeding the thoughts, I can shift attention towards:

  • What’s felt in the body (sensations, tightness, agitation, restlessness, etc.)
  • Is the mind contracted, lethargic, open
  • What emotions are felt in the body? Fear, worry, or some other emotion.
  • We can then ask what is needed to help ourselves.

If I’m too overwhelmed by the feelings, I can shift the attention towards the sensation of the breath; actually feeling the sensations of breathing in and out. This shift of attention, towards a neutral object helps stabilize and regulate our emotions. It helps break up the momentum of reactivity. Like hitting the pause button, we get to regroup, connect, and meet whatever is arising with kindness and compassion. We learn to respond to what is happening in the moment, instead of the story about what’s happening. To do this we need to learn how to respond with head and heart together or wisdom and compassion. This is the path to freedom.

“Only within our body, with its heart and mind, can bondage and suffering be found, and only here can we find true liberation.” This is the potential offered by this path.

Come practice with us and learn more about this transformational practice. Join us at our October 5th-7th retreat as we explore and practice together at the Casa San Carlos Retreat Center in Delray Beach. There are still spaces in the shared and private rooms. Reserve your space today. Register here.

May you be well…

 

 

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